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New FDA regulation aims to better define gluten-free for consumers

POSTED: August 5, 2014 1:19 a.m.

A gluten-free label regulation issued a year ago by the United States Food and Drug Administration takes effect today.

Any food makers voluntarily labeling their products as “gluten-free” must meet all of the requirements of the FDA’s new definition. This includes that the food must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

Labels including the claims of “no gluten, free of gluten, and without gluten” are also required to meet the new guidelines.

Food manufacturers will have a year after the rule is published to ensure their labels comply with the new regulation.

According to the FDA, “gluten” refers to “proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley and cross-bred hybrids of these grains,” and approximately 3 million people in the United States have celiac disease, an autoimmune disease where gluten triggers antibodies that attack and damage the small intestine.

Sheenagh King, registered dietitian and bariatric program manager for the Center for Bariatric surgery at The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville, said she believes the new labeling requirements will be helpful to consumers.

“For someone who is trying to eat gluten-free, regardless of the reason, knowing that if the product says it’s free of gluten and less than 20 ppm, it’s really going to help someone as a consumer,” she said.

A gluten-free diet has been steadily increasing in popularity throughout the country, with many people claiming the lifestyle is healthier than traditional diets.

For someone suffering from celiac disease, however, a gluten-free lifestyle is a medical necessity.

“If you truly have an issue with gluten, it’s not a fun way to live,” said King. “You have GI (gastrointestinal) upsets, bloating, diarrhea, constipation ... the person has an actual allergy to gluten.”

Untreated, the disease can lead to more serious conditions such as nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, infertility, and gastrointestinal cancers. The only treatment is to adhere to a strict, gluten-free diet and lifestyle.

King also said it’s important to note the difference between those with celiac disease and those with a gluten intolerance or sensitivity.

“Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, it’s hereditary. Gluten intolerance (while also a condition) is more of a sensitivity as opposed to an actual allergy,” she said.

To diagnose celiac disease, “they actually have to do a biopsy of your small intestine,” she added.

Both can often be misdiagnosed, she said.

“It’s challenging for physicians to figure out that is indeed what is going on with someone who has major GI issues.”

In addition to those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, there are individuals without any type of gluten-related condition who are choosing to adopt the lifestyle for their own personal preference.

Avoiding foods with gluten can be especially tricky, King said.

“There’s a lot of hidden sources that gluten is in, and you have to watch for sauces, dressings, gravies, even in broths and bread crumbs, and some lunchmeats — the main offenders are going to be breads and grains,” she said. “White flour, whole wheat, any type of grain, pastas, even beer.”

The easiest way to adhere to a gluten-free diet is to eat fresh foods, such as fruits, nonstarchy vegetables, lean meats, beans and seeds and stay away from grains, she said.

King recommended those who suspect they may have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease should see their primary care physician.


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